Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Understanding Catholics: Part I : Whence Reason?

I do believe I have a new favourite Catholic blog.  It's Accepting Abundance by home-schoolin'-ex-Atheist-fundamentalist-yet-post-Vatican-II Stacy Trasancos.  This knocks Leah Libresco's Unequally Yoked down to second position in my personal ranking of Converted to Catholics.  Maybe it's because Stacy started out a Baptist, while Leah started out non-religious.  Sorry Leah... well, not that you likely care.  Maybe I'm all Ideological-Turing-Tested out.

And why am I so smitten with this new blog find?  Truth be told, I simply cannot get enough stuff that annoys me.  I love being annoyed - it's my default setting.  Go ahead, check my configuration!

Her posts on Atheism and childhood indoctrination are so wonderfully provocative to Atheists like me that I'd be damned if she wasn't just trying to wind us all up for extra traffic to her blog.

You know, fire us all up into a really frustrated frenzy that drives us back for more like so many hundreds of teaming salmon swimming up river.

And I know nearly every one of her posts has the effect of slamming me into her colourful comments section.  There she Socratizes her opposition down in a highly confusing yet respectful way using references to what this Pope said; or that Saint wrote; or what Immanuel Kant thought.  (This is secret code that only smart Catholics seem to comprehend).  These compact theologically-backed refutations are glimpses into some other way of thinking and they boggle my ex-Catholic mind.

Thankfully,  if there's one thing I like almost as much as being annoyed, it's being really confused!  To my confused and annoyed brain, her comments section pops with near incomprehensible arguments which are not unlike the bursting of those tiny little orange caviar bubbles when I eat a good sushi platter.  Unexpected, salty, perhaps a little gross but still surprisingly good.

I recently commented in a post about her post about Atheism a Growing Evil.  Well, since then she has produced so many new gems that I am unable to keep up with them all!  Her latest post on Atheism is short enough that I may be able to express nearly all my confusion over it in a couple of blog posts.  I hope you will all find it enlightening.

Explaining Reason: Atheism or Christianity?

So, the question seems to be where Reason comes from.  Many Christians seem to be obsessed with this sort of thing.  Can it be explained by an Atheistic outlook or a Christian outlook, or neither - oh wait, she's not giving us that option.

The post starts by telling the reader that the topic at hand - Reason - was written about by a Cardinal Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, who later changed his name to Benedict and became the Pope.  This means listen up, Catholics!  This is important because a Pope-to-be wrote about it! Here's something the Pope said in a book in 1987.
He explains why such culturally shocking assertions, such as the subordination of the University and the State to the Church, are naturally and rationally ordered relationships for the common good, and it all begins with an explanation about reason.
You know, I detect a conflict of interest here.  I mean, isn't that just the sort of thing a Catholic clergyman would write?  Why can't we call just go back to before the Enlightenment?  To those gold-old-days - the Middle Ages?  Back in the Glory Days when the State and University were subordinate to the Church.

Popes were definitely in charge of School
and State in the 10th-century.
She goes on to remind her readers that Atheists aren't too keen on that idea.  I also have heard State Religion wasn't all that popular with the Founding Fathers down there in the States as well.  Even if they were religious, it's dubious they would have been Catholics.

Anyway, we are asked whether we've ever wondered how to respond to the insistence that faith should play no part in academic instruction or public policy.  Well apparently Ratzinger has the answers to this and Stacy will give us the low down in future essays.  For now she will concentrate on the question at hand Whence Reason?

Rubric one: Can Atheism Explain Reason?
The word “reason” is repeated a lot today, but without an understanding of what it really is. Atheists lay claim to it, assuming that it is the opposite of faith. The word has its root in classical Latin, ratio, and it means intellectual power, the capacity for rational thought.
You know, I've always been a little uncomfortable with the bandying about of the word Reason by the Atheist and Freethought community.  So I agree with the first sentence!  Hell, I can't say I have a firm grasp of what Reason means either.  It's like one of those big archetypes - Love, Will, Intellect.  Like Forms or Ideas, it all starts getting uncomfortably Platonic after awhile.

Things get tricky soon because both Reason and Faith seem to have multiple slippery definitions attached to them.  Personally, I would say one possible description of Reason is indeed intellectual power, the capacity for rational thought.  I prefer the application of logical principles to the available evidence.  One uses Reason as a process to sift through and judge each piece of Evidence based on its merits.  Faith is what happens when evidence is overwhelmingly lacking.

These are deep waters.  There's a lot going on in these tightly woven paragraphs.

Okay, time to put on your crash helmets for this next part.  I'll break the next section down into parts.
A tenet of atheism is that reason is a product of human evolution, just another step along the pathway that began with the Big Bang, a “random byproduct of the ocean of irrationality from which everything actually sprang.”
The Large Hadron Collider.
The only tenet of Atheism is a lack of belief in God.  Anyway, I'm a materialist, so I'll play along.  Yes, the ability to think (Reason) is the product of evolution (not just human).  Yes, it is another step along the pathway that was preceded by (not necessarily begun with) the Big Bang.  And yes, I suppose you could say it's a byproduct a series of irrational events.  I think the word byproduct is there to trivialize the whole thing.  There's nothing trivial about it though.  It's our story and the story of everything.

I guess all the evidence that stacks in favour of purely material universe sprung from a Big Bang and evolving constantly through unguided processes are merely the byproducts of a supernatural god orchestrating the whole thing?
But how can this be? If reason is real, then it is as inconceivable that the Big Bang is the primordial beginning of the universe as it is inconceivable that a circle can be squared.
This confused me because I thought there may have been an argument somewhere in here.  But there isn't.  It's just incredulity.   Yes, reason is real.  But it's not a thing.  It's like how digestion means digestive power, the capacity for converting food into energy.  Not all words are things.  Not everything is real in the same way.
That is — it is impossible.
 Waiting for an argument.

The foundation of rationality cannot be irrationality; reason cannot spring from the unreasonable. No, atheism has no explanation for the existence of reason.

Then whence God?  This, again.  Science continues to demonstrated that thought is an emergent property of a brain - a collection of matter.  Why haven't the scientists all jumped on the God idea?

Life can exist without rationality.  Bacteria, amoeba, and many small life forms do not have anything resembling Reason.  But as one follows your way up the ladder using lifeforms that remain today as your guide, one notices a gradual increase in awareness and ultimately reason itself.

I am assuming that irrationality and unreasonable here means a lack of Reason and doesn't reflect their more colloquial meanings.  They could otherwise bolster an argument solely with more emotional cues.

Well, I spent so much time gushing over the blog that I done went spent up all the space for this post! I'll save looking at the evidence for until next time.   Keep your crash helmets handy, because it only gets more confusing!

If Stacy does read this post, I hope she does realize that under my sarcastic exterior is someone who was once a Catholic and is now an Atheist.  Someone, who is truly confused to death when he reads Catholic blogs like hers.  It's highly likely she would be just as confused reading my blog.

Part II is available: Understanding Catholics: Part II: Whence Reason?

Editor's note: I would like to clarify that I meant the Aristophanes (Clouds) meaning of the verb "to socratize", not the Marquis De Sade version.  Although, I would surely never suspect any of my sensitive readers to read anything so base as that French philosopher, I was forced to read his works for myself for research purposes only.  I assure you.


  1. Really Godless, now you have me hooked. I will be watching her blog for more to read and criticize. It's as if I don't have enough to do. :)

    If you want Stacy to read your post, leave a link in the comment section of one of her posts.

  2. Thanks for your comment Veronica! It's actually hard work trying to respond to blog posts like hers on Atheism.

    I am fairly convinced she will see the posts via Google or something. But I guess I'll leave a comment.


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